In an important test case, the Court of Appeal is to consider medical evidence that vitamin supplements in baby formula milk may have led to an innocent couple being condemned as having caused serious injuries to their month-old baby.
Lawyers representing the boy’s parents argue that an extraordinary sequence of medical events led to a case of vitamin D deficiency and congenital rickets being wrongly viewed as evidence of child abuse with the result that the boy was taken into care and freed for adoption.
It is submitted that the boy was born with a vitamin D deficiency, inherited from his mother, and that this led to ‘soft bones’ and rickets. Although blood tests carried out when the boy was four weeks old were normal, the couple’s lawyers argue that his congenital condition would by then have been ‘masked’ by the formula milk given to him by his mother, which contained vitamin D supplements.
The parents claim that rickets was the true explanation for multiple broken bones suffered by the baby, which could have been caused during his difficult forceps birth, or in-utero. They point to medical records which show abnormalities in the functioning of the baby's liver, an organ instrumental in processing vitamin D.
Lord Justice McFarlane, sitting at the Court of Appeal, directed that evidence in the case be reviewed by a fresh medical expert. A leading endocrinologist, who has carried out pioneering work on the causes and effects of vitamin D deficiency, will be instructed to carry out that task if he is available to do so.
The parents are appealing against a family judge’s ruling that one or other of them must have been responsible for the baby's injuries. The same judge subsequently refused to review that decision and freed the boy for adoption.
Lord Justice McFarlane observed: ‘Medical knowledge of how some children may have bones that are more susceptible to injury than normal children has moved on’. He added that there was no evidence of emotional difficulties, domestic violence or alcohol or drug abuse within the family to indicate a risk of child abuse.
Emphasising the extreme urgency of the case in light of local authority plans for the boy's imminent adoption, the judge gave the parents 28 days to obtain an expert medical report in support of their case.
Once that report has been obtained, the case will return to the Court of Appeal for consideration of whether the parents should be granted permission to appeal.